Just like the Colt .45 Peacemaker, the lever-action rifle is about as All-American as it gets. It has been used in everything from taming the Wild West, helping hunters bring down larger game, to helping people protect themselves in all aspects of history. The lever-action rifles are indeed revolutionary and here are some of the most famous.
It wasn’t the first lever action rifle, but it was the first one to be commercially successful. The Henry was produced from 1860 to 1866. Chambered for .44 Rimfire, this gun changed the world and B. Tyler Henry’s rifle set the stage for all those lever actions to follow. With a 15-round tube magazine it was the rifle the Confederates called “That damn Yankee rifle they load on Sunday and shoot all week.”
The world changed again with this rifle, the gun that won the West. The Henry rifle company had an investor, a shirt maker named Oliver F. Winchester who eventually controlled the company and renamed it to Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Their first new product was an improved version of the Henry, the Winchester 1866. The trouble was, that gun still used a rimfire cartridge and those newfangled centerfires were getting traction in the market. The 1873 was designed for centerfire cartridges, initially the .44-40 or .44 WCF as it was called then. With the ability to reload the ammo, this gun contributed to western expansion.
It was easy to cast bullets over the campfire and with a supply of primers and powder, to load the ammo. This allowed people to move and explore and still have fuel for their guns. The .44-40 and later introduced .38-40 cartridges were also popular in the Colt revolver so that a person could carry one supply of ammo for both the rifle and handgun.
This rifle introduced America to the smokeless powder era as well as jacketed bullets and high velocity rifle cartridges. The Winchester 1894 was introduced along with two new cartridges, the .25-35 Winchester and the .30 WCF, later called the .30-30 Winchester. The 1894 was also offered in some carry-over black powder era cartridges like the .38-55, .32-40 and a “crossover” cartridge, the .32 Special. Over the years there were have been a huge number of cartridges offered in the 94 from .38 Special to the .450 Marlin. Only the .30-30 went on to see great success.
Savage Model 99
The Savage Model 99 lever action rifle is unconventional in design. It could use pointed bullets and was strong enough for powerful cartridges.
Arthur William Savage is best known for the Savage Model 99 lever action, a true game-changing rifle. The 99 had an internal hammer for faster lock time and a rotary box magazine. That meant the rifle could use pointed bullets. It was also strong enough to handle modern high pressure cartridges. While the Winchester 94 in .30-30 was the gun for the masses, the thinking man used a Savage 99, usually in .300 Savage or .250 Savage.
The Browning Model 81 BLR (Browning Lever-Action Rifle) is a marvel of engineering. It runs on a series of gears and pinion racks that would make a steam-punker giddy with glee. The BLR has a removable box magazine so pointed bullets are not a problem and it can handle even beast-mode cartridges like the .338 Winchester Magnum. The list of cartridges offered runs from .22-250 though all the usual suspects, including the WSM line of cartridges. Mine is in .358 Winchester and I believe this was the last production gun chambered for that cartridge.
The 336 had side ejection which allowed easy mounting of a scope while the 94 ejected out the top, which meant a scope had to be mounted off to the side. The 336 was made in a bunch of configurations and chambered for cartridges from the .219 Zipper though the .356 Winchester, but its stock and trade was the .30-30 Winchester and the .35 Remington. There is no telling how much venison was made with this gun in those cartridges. You can still buy one today.
These weapons have helped to shape our country. It was these weapons that help to revolutionize wars and the way that they were fought. In many ways, America today would not exist were it not for the lever-action rifle.
To learn more about the lever-action rifle as well as some makes and models that were as famous and impactful, check out Outdoor Life.